Lawyers for the families of victims of the NSU neo-Nazi group and initiatives against far-right extremism agree that society needs to take a long, hard look at racism in Germany,
Sebastian Scharmer and Mehmet Daimagüler chose the venue for their critical remarks with care: at Berlin's House of Democracy and Human Rights - which describes itself as "a space for dialogue" - the two lawyers itemized a long list of society's shortcomings in how it handles far-right extremism and racism.
Their message was that, two years after the revelations about the NSU neo-Nazi murders, Germany has returned to business as usual.
They were speaking ahead of a debate in the German parliament, the Bundestag, on Thursday (20.02.2014) in the NSU murders were to be discussed for the first time in this legislative period.
Scharmer and Daimagüler represent the families of the NSU's victims at the trial in Munich of the group's surviving member, Beate Zschäpe. Even nine months after the start of the trial, their clients are still waiting for answers to key questions. Who, apart from the five defendants, belonged to the network surrounding the National Socialist Underground? How did they choose their ten victims? Who funded the NSU, and what were the group's ties to other countries? What information did the intelligence agencies have after the alleged killers went into hiding in 1998 until they were exposed in 2011?
Limited or no access to files
The lawyers say that all efforts toshed light on theNSU murders seem to go nowhere. Scharmer accuses the state prosecution of doing its best to prevent clarification of the facts: he says he and his colleagues have limited or no access to the files. For example, they were only allowed to look at files on a dubious police informer after applying to the federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe - they were not allowed to make copies and could only take notes: "That is neither clarification nor transparency."
The lawyers also come up against a brick wall in the trial when they inquire about the political views held by witnesses close to Zschäpe. The prosecution regularly objects to such queries - an approach Scharmer says amounts to a failure to take account of the victims' families' "legitimate interests."
Anetta Kahane, chairperson of the Berlin-based Antonio Amadeu Foundation against racism, has watched the trial in court - and had the distinct impression that "tactical games were being played." Chancellor Angela Merkel's pledge to get to the bottom of the murders was a mere gesture, she says. At a memorial service for the families of the victims in February 2012, Merkel said everything was being done to clear up the murders, find the accomplices and make sure the perpetrators get their just punishment. Two years later, Kahane concludes that back then, the authorities "staged a lot of hope."
The lawyers hope their outspoken criticism will spark a debate about racism in Germany. They urge the Bundestag to set up a committee in which lawmakers, experts and citizens can thoroughly research the issue. A group of parliamentarians involved in an investigative committee on the murders came to a similar conclusion last year, - and pointed out the state's "total failure" in a 1,000-page final document.
Now interest seems to have flagged: the current debate lasted just 90 minutes, and Scharmer is convinced that authorities feel the issue has been more or less wrapped up.
The lawyers are sorely disappointed by the NSU trial; however, Daimagüler says they have been able to win "valuable insights into the defendants." Four other defendants charged with assisting the NSU during its 13 years underground are on trial in Munich alongside Zschäpe.